Thursday, August 30, 2007

Atheism

Here is link that Scott Ott sent me, thanks Scott.
For all who have noticed the recent volatile attacks from atheists in their books, many of which cannot even intelligently deal with what Scripture says, use outdated philosophical arguments as if they've never been addressed or dismiss Christians as a bunch of bumbling idiots, this is just funny. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

1 John 4:1-3; The Necessity of Confession

Here is something to think about. It largely consists of excerpts from a sermon I preached last Sunday. The text of the whole sermon should be posted soon at the church websight. I hope that one of these days we get to putting MP3s of my sermons online, for now we make CDs for people.
Our call to worship was:

2 John 1:7-8 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.

Confession is an important part of the Christian faith. Look at what 1 John says. John is clear that any spirit that confesses Jesus’ real incarnation is from God.

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;

This means that someone must confess that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. They must confess the real and true incarnation. Jesus did not just look like a human. His Godhood was not just covered with the appearance of flesh or humanity, like I can cover myself with a sheet.Jesus Christ was fully human. He identified with our humanity. EVERYTHING THAT IS ESSENTIAL TO HUMANITY IS EVERYTHING THAT JESUS POSSESSED.

Hebrews 2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
Hebrews 2:17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Thus, the person must believe that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came in true flesh, born of the virgin. He was truly human. Only such confession is from God. Some who claim to be from God and have the Spirit of God in them but cannot confess this or does not truly believe it: that person is not from God! If a spirit does not confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, then the spirit is not from God.

1 John 4:3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

At the end of the sermon, I made the following applications:

WHAT ARE SOME CORE ELEMENTS CONCERNING GOD THAT ONE CANNOT DENY? You cannot be a Christian if you deny these things:
1. The TRINITY: The whole notion of “Jesus has come in the flesh” makes no sense if God does not any sense if Jesus is not the eternal Son of God.

1 John 5:5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5:19-20 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

2. The full Godhood of the Son and be a Christian:

1 John 2:23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.

Many cults affirm the Son is a real person but they deny He is truly God. This is an act of denying the Son. Many cults outwardly confess Jesus is the Son of God or Jesus came in the flesh but because they deny that the Father and Son are equal in Godhood or the Son is an eternal person and is fully God, they do not deny the Son. There can be no incarnation is the Son is not eternally preexistent as fully God.


3. The full humanity of Jesus Christ.

2 John 1:7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.

You cannot deny that Jesus is eternal and that at a point in time he became human. His humanity did not exist until between 6-4B.C. when he entered Mary’s womb. {note to readers: this list is not exhaustive and does not include say Paul's warnings in Galatians 1:6ff, however my focus was on what the Apostle John warns us about.}

We need doctrinal statements to guard the confession of the faith. Doctrinal statements are essential to healthy Christian lives and churches.You must know what the Bible teaches. We are to unite around what the Bible teaches so we produce summaries of Scriptures teaching. Doctrinal statements spell out what we believe and confess. Granted, there are some things that are less essential to statements of orthodoxy than others. For example, someone who believes in infant Baptism can still be a Christian. The Westminster Confession of faith is an example. Someone can be an amillenialist or believe that Christians should not serve the government and still be a Christian. Just because we do not agree with every Christian 100% does not mean that we do not have to agree on the essentials. DOCTRINAL STATEMENTS MARK OUT THE ESSENTIALS. We must guard this.

Doctrinal statements or confessions are needed because heretics use Scripture! Heretics shout just as loudly as evangelicals “We believe the Bible” R.P.C. Hanson has said of the Arian controversy (a debate over the Godhood of Jesus): “the dispute was about the interpretation of the Bible” –so it is with almost every heresy. DOCTRINAL STATEMENTS SAY: “THIS IS WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES”

STATEMENTS OF ORTHODOXY ARE NECESSARY:

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;

Listen to what one leader in new movement amongst churches has said: He describes statements of orthodoxy as “unnecessary, inappropriate, and disastrous.” He describes there new movement as:

“dynamic rather than static, which means that its ongoing intentionality is (and may it ever be) shaped less by an anxiety about finalizing state-ments than it is by an eager attention to the dynamism of the Spirit’s disturbing and comforting presence, which is always reforming us by calling us into ever-intensifying participation in the Son’s welcoming of others into the full embrace of God.” [1]

In short, we don’t need statements and confession because the Spirit is always at work. The Spirit’s work in moving and changing, it is activity. “Statements restrict the Spirit’s activity.” Statements of orthodoxy are static, we are fluid and dynamic.

HOW PATENTLY UNBIBLICAL. WE ARE TO TEST THE SPIRIT. WE TEST THE SPIRIT WITH A CONFESSION OF THE FAITH: A STATEMENT, A DOCTRINAL STATEMENT. To say “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” is a statement of orthodoxy. Certainly there is the danger of cold dead orthodoxy. But if we really understand the truth does it not grip us, do we not sing, rejoice and worship? Cold orthodoxy is just as evil as no orthodoxy. But we must have the heat of the Spirit and the light of the truth—that is fire. They are inseparable. You cannot have one without the other.

Confession of Christ is a test of the Spirit because:

1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

WE DO NOT JUST BELIEVE THE SPIRIT IS AT WORK BECAUSE PEOPLE CLAIM SO. The Spirit does not guard the church without the Word of God and without the confession of the faith that we see from the very beginning in the apostles. People like to talk about the “Spirit at work” without any clarity over what that looks like and how we know. THE SPIRIT DOES NOT WORK APART FROM TRUTH.

John 4:24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

TRUTH MUST BE UPHELD, GUARDED and PROTECTED. WE CHERISH TRUTH, BECAUSE WE CHERISH GOD AND HIS WORK. We do this because we love Christ, He who is truth. The church is made by Christ to be the ground and pillar of truth (1 Tim. 3:15).

THE SPIRIT GLORIFIES CHRIST, NOT HIMSELF. THEREFORE IF THE SPIRIT IS AT WORK THERE WILL BE A CONFESSION OF CHRIST. Even people who have good doctrinal statements often have ministries that don’t point people to Jesus.

John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16:14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

This guiding into all truth is the work of the Spirit amongst the apostles to finish the Word of God. The Spirit does not speak new truth and new revelation today. Where the Spirit is at work there is a desire to make the truth clear using statements.

WE MUST BE ALERT. WE MUST TEST EVERY SPIRIT. THERE ARE REAL ANTICHRISTS IN THE WORLD. You do not coddle an antichrist, you resist them, you speak the truth, you hold fast to orthodoxy.

My thoughts were not only sparked by this sermon above but I've been reading Tom Nettles Ready For Reformation. [I had read through chapter 2 two weeks prior to this sermon, my thoughts about confessions were similar to his even prior to reading his work. I must say in writting my sermon, what he had said didn't really come to mind per se]. It is nice to know that my thoughts on 'confessions' can be found within the stream of church history.[2] Similar thoughts from Tom Nettles appeared in the Founder Journal, here.

Christian communities have not only a right but an obligation to ask in what sense he [a person] believes the Bible--as a Socinian, an Arian, or a Pelagian? Creeds not only have declared the faith of Christian communities but have served "to test andexpose the character of dishonest men, who, under the plea of believers, entered the church to pollute its doctrine and to divide and scatter its members." Creeds then, as they should be now, were used against "the agents of the wicked one" who had crept into the church... What Christian would not be delighted to confess his faith to the world to set his witness in the open air and light for all to investigate.

--Ready For Reformation. p.18-19

We must be ever cautious of the spirit of the age where the church herself resists and denigrates confession. We are to be a body of people who confess certain truths. We confess Jesus is Lord. We confess that Christ came in the flesh. Confession is not, of course, empty professions.

That we know of nothing in the scriptures or in common sense, that requires the churches to be gagged, to prevent their proclaiming to the world, in this way, what they believe to be the great truths of our religion--that requires them to conceal their light under a bushel. And it is well known that churches, by publishing creeds, have stayed the injurious influences of slander and misrepresentation…. Indeed, unless a church is ashamed of her doctrine, we can see no good reason for her shrinking from its publication. Truth needs no concealment and seeks none. It seeks the light and the day. It shuns coverts and hiding-places, and stands on the mountain top to be seen and known of all men. [3]

Tom Nettles reminds us "A true reformation must recapture the willingness as well as the historical and biblical aptitude to embrace a strong confession." [Ready for Reformation, 26]. In another sermon, I said:

Confession is private and confession is public. I want to focus on the public part. We need to publicly confess together that “we believe…” We need to state out loud what we believe for several reasons: (1) It reminds us that Christianity is first and foremost a doctrine, a confession. It is proclaims the truth Jesus is LORD. Christianity is not therapy. (2) We need to publicly speak the truth. Hiding the truth is not being true. (3) It guards against intentional heretics. Darkness is driven out by light. (4) It teaches unbelievers who are searching to know God. We must allow people to discover the truth. We must all come to personal confession of those things that are eternally true. We must proclaim the truth if others are to come.

I know some have come from churches where people publicly confessed some of the creeds but it was dry and meaningless. We do not want to do these things by force of habit ‘just because’. But public confession is good. Publicly affirm beliefs. We should say a creed from time to time as worship; confession is worship.

YOU MUST KNOW WHAT YOU CONFESS, WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES. Do not merely utter the words, let your soul be enriched because you understand the meaning. I believe it was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers who used to call the Trinity “My Trinity”. It was a matter of loving God to understand the Trinity, it meant knowing God.

Stand firm in your confession: if you believe Jesus is the Son of God, you know the truth, you have the Holy Spirit, you are not of the liar. Do not back away from this truth. Be a strong confessor. This means be humble and gentle to unbelievers who do not understand, do not be rude and abusive in speech or action.This also means do not tolerate unbelief the comes in the forms of liars who would stand in our church, or any church that says “we have the truth”. NO THEY DO NOT HAVE THE TRUTH. We need to have Christians who say “hey that isn’t broccoli".

The reference to broccoli comes from earlier in the sermon. I was attempting to describe how people misuse and change language to hide disagreement under the ruse of unity. I describe how a particular religion will say "we follow Jesus" but they will deny things like He is the Son of God. Or how people will say "Jesus is the Son of God" but they do not mean that He is an eternal person or truly and fully God.

It is verbal trickery. It is like saying “Do you like broccoli?” “Oh yes, I do” “Here have some” “Oh that is not broccoli to me, my broccoli is sweat and dark and made from Cocoa beans” –But hey, at least we both like Broccoli.

CONCLUSION:

We need confessions of faith. We do not need dry formulas or formalize however just because some use confessions this way does not mean they are bad. Doctrine comes from the Word of God and when people twist the Word of God, a statement of faith is a way of summarizing what we believe Scripture to say. Confessions do divide, they must divide. First, they cut of unbelievers. Second, they distinguish our understanding of the Bible from other orthodox Christians. However, confessions as statements are designed to bring unity, that we all stand unified upon the Bible as the Word of God and we are able to summarize.

Jesus desires his church to be a confessing church. Not a church that merely makes confessional documents but a church that actively confesses who He is and what He has done.

John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins."

There is no salvation without the work of Christ. We do not share in the benefits of this salvation unless we believe and confess. In this way, much of the modern/post-modern church has lost her way. So long as we wander in this wilderness, the church will never experience the true reformation. Word and Spirit go hand in hand.

Romans 10:9-10 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.


[1] LeRon Shults, quoted in Tony Jones’ paper “From Whence Hermeneutical Authority” 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference. Found at: http://www.emergentvillage.com/file_download/14

[2] For an article on the importance of Catechism in the early church see Clinton Arnold “Early Church Catechesis and New Christians’ Classes in Contemporary Evangelicalism.” JETS 47/1 (March 2004) 39-54.

[3] Editor, "An Explanation of the Use of Creeds Among Baptists," in Western Baptist Review, vol 1, no. 3 (November, 1845), 140, 141. Quoted Ready for Reformation, p.20.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Star Trek and Reading

Nicholas Meyers has left his mark on the world of Star Trek. The ‘even numbers of Star Trek,’ particularly II, IV, and VI are widely regarded as the most successful films primarily because of his involvement. One of the reasons, I believe, they are so successful is because they are intelligent films not just senseless Sci-Fi shooting, which seems to be all the rage today. In a recent article Startrek.com acknowledges, “It is generally agreed that the best of the TOS-cast movies are the even-numbered ones, among other reasons because these films have a distinctively literate quality. That quality can primarily be attributed to the one man common to all three movies, Nicholas Meyer, who co-wrote "Star Trek II," "IV" and "VI," and directed "II" and "VI."”

Addressing a recent Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, Nicholas Meyer’s was asked, “Do you have some fascination with the Victorian era?” Here is Meyer’s response as recorded in this article:

"My principal fascination with the Victorian era is that they speak English. And my principal difficulty with the present era is that they do not," Meyer answered bluntly. "One has only to compare the rhetoric of the incumbent with the rhetoric of, say, Lincoln, or Theodore Roosevelt — other Republicans, by the way. And I have this feeling that if you cannot speak, you probably have difficulty thinking."


He stepped from this remark into a cautionary tale he had prepared: "Let me acquaint you with the strange fate, fellow members of the Federation, of the late great Planet Earth. Planet Earth, which some of you may have heard of, was a planet that had ample supplies of air and water, and was the host to a bewildering variety of lifeforms, and it was apparently principally ruled by a species of flightless bird called Ostrich. The Ostriches were extremely clever, and they managed to build planes so they could fly, and they managed to do all sorts of remarkable things. They had two interesting characteristics, however, that may have contributed to their doom. One is that they could not abide silence. There always had to be some kind of chatter in every room that the Ostriches lived in, whether it was the waiting room of a dentist, or a barbershop, or in their nests — there was always chatter going on. And the thing about the chatter that seemed to be so essential to them was that it had to be about nothing.


"This goes to their other thing which led to the demise of this planet, was that, when threatened with real difficulties or problems, the Ostriches would plunge their heads into the sand, in the belief that if they couldn't see the trouble, the trouble couldn't see them. And so they listened on their communication devices to tales of people named Imus, or Hilton, or I don't know what. They're all gone now, and this poor planet disappeared because they were so busy amusing themselves to death...”

There is something at stake for all of us when our culture cannot read and think critically. I hope in the future, Star Trek continues to be written by good writers who have the ability to tap into classic literature (how many movies and episodes have includes countless references to literature?). There is something to be said for the qualities of stories when they can not only reflect the events of the day (Star Trek VI and the fall of the Soviet Union), they can tap into classic themes (Star Trek II and the blinding futility of revenge), or poke fun at our present day (Star Trek IV and the humor of a 23rd century crew wrestling with the culture of the mid-1980s) but when they can do this and reflect the great stories of past generations. Hardly a story has been written in our day that has not been done before. What makes a story great is not so much strict ingenuity, while I admit it needs some of this, but when it can at the same tell the same old classic stories and themes in a new genre for a new day. Worthwhile contemporary literature has the ability to acknowledge when it stands of the backs of the greats and takes a leap into the future. In my opinion, Star Trek in particular (and fiction as a whole) is at its best when it is openly indebted to the past in a way the present generation can get a grip upon. –And if it can encourage people to enjoy the good literature that has gone before, all the better.

I say this as someone who is not very well read in the classics. In high school, I found them boring for the most part. Part of this was because so often we practically ‘deconstructed’ the literature and disrespected the author imposing our own ideas upon him or her. I do believe we have something at stake when our culture cannot read and think critically. By thinking critically I mean the ability to reflect upon and analyze what we have read which is different than being ‘critical’ or derogatory toward what we have read. We have something at stake when we cannot recognize a good narrative or how a story unfolds and climaxes. We have something at stake when we cannot see themes systematically unfolding within a plot. It is awful if authors lack the ability to unfold themes and develop characters. In our day, even when authors do this, readers do not have the patience to listen and look for it but want to jump on to the next exciting amusement. A crisis is truly at hand.

As Christians, something deeper is threatened when literacy and reading comprehension wanes: the gospel itself. The gospel unfolds in redemptive history [which is real history] and is fundamentally a narrative of what God has done. It is good news. News is recorded in writing and literature with a fundamentally narrative quality. Like a story, in the gospel we can see the unfolding plot: the events of the kingdom’s coming, its culmination in Christ’s death, resurrection or ascension. How can we know God if we cannot thinking competently about His unfolding plot of redemption in the events of the historical? In the gospel, we can also analyze the story systematically in much the same way someone looks at whole portrayal of a character in a novel. For the Christian, we find what the whole of Scripture teaches on crucial truths like the deity of Christ, how the human and divine come together in Christ, justification, sanctification, etc. All things tied to the unfolding of redemption yet we can look at a cross section of the plot and see the whole of what we should know for life and godliness.

If we cannot read and analyze what we read, we are cut off from the Word of God by our own ignorance. God has ordained the Spirit to work through the Word of God. God has ordained the written Word of God to testify to the incarnate Word. We cannot know the latter without the former (John 5:39; 1 John 1:1-5). The Word of God is our anchor and as the church we are to be the ground and pillar of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). We cannot do this without the written Word and the ability to handle (‘rightly divide) the Word (2 Tim. 2:15). If we lack the ability to read for understand and think about what we’ve read will not be able to handle the written Word of God. If we cannot handle the written Word of God, we will be swept away and tossed to and fro by every wind of new and creative doctrine and heresy will capsize us (Eph. 4:14). As Christians is we are busy amusing ourselves to death more important things that this ‘poor planet’ are at stake: it is the gospel of the Glory of God that we be dulled and tarnished. Even more to the point: if we loose the joy of reading in this generation, we will lose the gospel in the next.

ADDENDUM: I don't know if Meyers knows it our not, but "Amusing Ourselves to Death" is a title of a book.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

It is taking me a little longer than I thought to work through some of the church fathers on the virign birth. I promise I'll get back to that but for now, here is a great book I read on my vacation: The Last Stand of the Tine Can Sailors.

On the morning of October 25, 1944 off the island of Samar in the Philippines a small force of American ships designated Taffy 3 under the command of Rear Admiral Sprague was ambushed by a superior Japanese force under the command of Admiral Kurita. The American force consisting of six escort carriers (small aircraft carriers), three destroyers and four smaller destroyer escorts (13 ships) was all that stood between the Japanese and MacArthur’s troops that had returned to the Philippines landing in Leyte Gulf. The larger and superior American 3rd fleet under the command of Admiral Halsey had been skillfully lured to the north out of range and the 7th fleet to the south had engaged another Japanese force that was approaching Leyte Gulf from the south.

Admiral Kurita’s fleet had four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers for a total of 23 ships. The larger guns of the battleship and cruisers could easily engage the American force well out of range of any of the peashooters that destroyers carried. Destroyers were primarily for escorting fleets. They would set up screens around carriers and large ships to protect them from torpedoes and surprise submarine attacks. They rarely if ever directly engaged in ship-to-ship battles directly. This kind of intense combat was left for the ‘big boys’ and the little destroyers, affectionately called ‘Tin Cans,’ fell far short in size and strength.

In the battle many brave soldiers lost their lives. This was the only battle in World War 2 where a carrier (The Gambier Bay) was ever sunk by shelling. At the end of the battle as the Japanese retreated, a deadly new weapon was first used: the Kamikaze attack from airplanes—which sunk the St. Lo (another small aircraft carrier). During the battle the three destroyers and one destroyer escort made runs on the Japanese ships, closing upon the deadly guns, to bring them within torpedo range. To charge into torpedo range under the battleships and cruisers’ massive guns was the equivalent of tiny knight charging under flaming breath of a dragon attempting to plunge his sword into his scales while trying not to get cooked in the process. These runs bought the fleet time to escape and eventually lead the Japanese turning northward for escape but the torpedo runs came at the cost of the lives of good sailors and their ships.

James D. Hornfisher writes,

As catastrophic as it was, Taffy 3’s historic last stand at Samar conferred to the bloody campaign an aspect of transcendence. The victory at Leyte Gulf was the product of Allied planning, savvy, and panache, to be sure. But only Samar showed the world something else: how Americans handle having their backs pushed to the walls. As Herman Wouk wrote in War and Remembrance, “The victory of Sprague’s three destroyers—the Johnston, the Hoel, and the Hermann—charging out of the smoke and the rain straight toward the main batteries of Kurita’s battleships and cruisers, can endure as a picture of the way Americans fight when they don’t have superiority. Our schoolchildren should know about that incident, and our enemies should ponder it.”
--Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors p. 406.
Admiral Nimitz said of the battle:

“The history of the United States Navy records no more glorious two hours of resolution, sacrifice, and success.”
Samuel Eliot Morison said,

“In no engagement in its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts, and gumption than in the those two hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar.”
War is horrendous and terrible even if the cause be just and noble. In contrast to the spirit of our age, there are things worth fighting for; and even there are battles that must be fought. There is nothing braver than a soldier or sailor willing to put his life on the line to save another or make a decisive stand to turn the tide of a battle or war. The men of Taffy 3’s Tin Cans showed exemplary courage and bravery under fire and are in every account true heroes taking a stand to assure the escape of the escort carriers and the continued safety of MacArthur’s forces.

Lt. Commander Robert W. Copeland skipper of the Samuel B. Roberts addressed his crew before the battle:

“This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”
If military history and historic battles interests you, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfishcer is a must read. Even if history does not interest you it is worth the read. The account of human struggle against overwhelming odds followed by a harrowing two days at sea awaiting rescue is sobering read. In a day and age where we have pleasures and ease to our hearts content, we would do well to consider the service and sacrifice of those who have gone before us. The road to our leisure has been paved with the blood, sweat and tears of the hard fought struggles of our forefathers. In a day and age of comfort, ease, and cowardice has eclipsed true nobility, honor and bravery we would be wise to reflect on the sacrifice of these men. The zeitgeist of self-centered self-esteem that allows us to feel good about ourselves and assert our own personal arrogance at the expense of others will never consent to the kind of true sacrificial bravery evidenced by the men of Taffy 3. We would do well to read of such bravery so that it might inspire our own character and shake us from our paralyzing lethargy that to often masquerades as false humility and phony gentleness. Regardless of how one feels about war, and certainly not every war is just, there is nothing more noble and righteous than self-sacrifice on behalf of others in the face of tragedy and certain death so that the others might overcome—that is after all what we see in the gospel.

A Fletcher Class destroyer like the Hoel, the Heermann, and the Johnston which were part of Taffy 3:

ADDENDUM: Here [link] is what Wikipedia says about the smaller destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts that went head-to-head with the Japenese force:

Destroyer escorts were also useful for coastal anti-submarine and radar picket ship duty. They were never meant to fight against cruisers and battleships, but that is what happened in the Battle off Samar. The destroyer escort ship Samuel B. Roberts of task group Taffy 3 joined other out-gunned destroyers in directly attacking cruisers and battleships. With no armor, only two 5-inch guns and 3 Mark-15 torpedoes capable of punching a hole in enemy hulls, her crew lacked the weapons and training in tactics to compete with the much larger heavy cruiser Chokai. The Roberts dodged shellfire to fire a salvo of 3 torpedoes which struck the cruiser. The battle continued for an hour, and the Roberts fired over 600 5-inch shells, and hit the upper works with 40 mm Bofors and 20 mm anti-aircraft guns at close range. Chikuma's bridge was set afire and the number 3 gun turret was disabled. Chikuma scored two direct hits on the Roberts, which soon sank with 89 of her crew. After the battle the Roberts became known as "the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship". The Roberts was an instrumental part of a small task force of light ships that forced a much larger armoured battle force to turn away from American landing forces in Leyte Gulf, though at a high cost.

You can read more about the battle here. The Yamato's main guns were just over 18 inches. The other battleships had 16 inch guns. Picture that against 5 inch guns. It's like spit wads against a canon. [Don't forget five inch shells would have little effect against the armor of the battleship.]

USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413):

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Calvin, Hobbes, and the Gospel



Long before I knew who John Calvin was, I was reading the another great theologian who could really delve into life: Calvin and Hobbes. As a young boy with a wild imagination I particularly loved 'Spaceman Spiff' and all the zany adventures of a boy and his tiger.

Justin Taylor linked to this great article: What You Can Learn from Calvin and Hobbes about the Message and the Medium. As many fans of Calvin and Hobbes know its creator Bill Watterson has continually refused to license Calvin and Hobbes. This has prevented an influx of Calvin and Hobbes T-shirts, coffemugs, mouse pads, etc. etc. Watterson believed and continues to believe that "licensing is inconsistent with what I'm trying to do with Calvin and Hobbes." The article is worth the read, but here are some excerpts:

Watterson speaks very simply but it is from a great wealth of self-knowledge and love of the cartoons. Every phrase in the interview reveals that he has turned the questions over and over in his mind: Licensing is inconsistent with what I’m trying to do … I take cartoons seriously as an art form … it’s important to analyze what my strip is about … These aren’t concerns you can wrap up neatly in a clever little saying for people to send each other or to hang up on their walls … Note pads and coffee mugs just aren’t appropriate vehicles for what I’m trying to do here … I’m not interested in removing all the subtlety from my work to condense it for a product....

If you want to make a statement about people in relationships over time, you had better not try saying it on a t-shirt or bumper sticker. Communicators need to understand their message well enough, organically enough, to pick an appropriate medium for getting it across. Insensitivity to the medium-message connection is what makes most pop music so bathetic when it attempts profundity...


It also explains why the Christian message seems so bizarre and irrelevant when it is communicated via slogans, marketing campaigns, fashion, and advertising knick-knacks. Pointing this out hardly qualifies me for prophet status; any sensitive person confronted with the modern Christian marketing machine is bound to feel queasy...

If the subtle message of Calvin and Hobbes doesn’t fit on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and bedsheets, then it seems unlikely that the message of Christ does. That the almighty and entirely holy God would undertake the costly work of reconciling sinners to himself — that one of the Trinity died on the cross for us and our salvation — that the Spirit would be poured out and dwell in a created temple without consuming it — who is sufficient for these things? If we can easily rule out some media as being inadequate for containing this message, is it possible to identify any medium that could be adequate?...

The only appropriate media for communicating the gospel are lives and words. Christians have to wrap themselves up in the good news of Jesus Christ, live that mystery together in the fellowship of the church, and give the world something worth seeing. And they have to explain it in the form of sound doctrine, explaining biblical truth, making the message clear as only words can. There is a strong temptation these days to seek refuge in the claim that “my life is my testimony,” as if a set of behaviors could take the place of preaching, teaching, witnessing, and the host of other verbal interactions the New Testament is about. But the gospel is wordy, just as it is lifey. It just isn’t very bumper stickery...

Watterson was worried that the very existence of these products would sap the power from the real thing; that a million Calvin window decals would make the Calvin comic strip harder to read. It’s possible that too many ineffective Jesus reminders all over the place might have a degrading effect on our ability to read Jesus where he really is. The only way to know if that’s the case is to know our message as well as Watterson knew his. Watterson could spot a deviation from the integrity and fullness of the Calvin and Hobbes mystique in an instant. Do modern Christians have senses so well trained, or a grasp of the gospel message so acute, that we can spot such deviations?

This whole article deserves a careful read. I have long been bothered by the Christian merchandise I find in my Christian "bookstore." There is a sobering reminder what 'marketing' Christianity does to the message. This is especially true as postmodernism at the pop-culture level has trained itself to spot phonies and resist media marketing. We have learned to tune out to the sales pitch: what do they do when we "market the gospel"? We offer in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3) that our found in the gospel alone but we sell it like it was dispossable diapers.

Somehow I doubt Jesus would agree to have his name licensed for 'marketability' and cute little WWJD bracelets. But hey, it sells.

The most powerful quote in my opinion: "It’s possible that too many ineffective Jesus reminders all over the place might have a degrading effect on our ability to read Jesus where he really is. "

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Virgin Birth-part 2, Ignatius

I am finally going to pick up and continue the series of posts that I began here. In that post, I commented, "Previous generations have understood the historical virgin birth is just as vital to the historical events of crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. " I hope to support that a little more as I continue this series.

Through the centuries, Christians have always held that the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is important to the Christian faith. It is important in the way factual existence of red blood cells in my body are important to the other parts of the body. There is not living and breadthing activity by the rest of my body without it. Similarly there is no living and breathing faith in Jesus without the one who was born by a virgin. His virgin birth is not a matter of myth or legend but history. The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke are not tapping into mythology or taking over Greco-Roman beliefs for a point of mere rhetoric. They are telling us what happened. Jesus Christ was born of Mary, a woman who had never had sexual intercourse. According the gospels, the Holy Spirit came upon her so that she might carry a child in her womb. The child was the eternal Son of God who became flesh.

As I noted in the previous post on this issue, the virgin birth has never been for Christianity something that is “potentially dismissible.” In our day, it is easy to loose perspective of history. We must realize the centrality of the virgin birth has been held and defended since the earliest Christians. While the Virgin Birth was vigorously defended against the onslaught of liberalism in the 1900s, the defense was neither novel nor the product of Enlightenment epistemology. It is a blatant fallacy to think that the importance of defending the historicity of the Virgin Birth is a product of modern “Enlightenment bound” Christianity.

From the time of the New Testament on into the first Church Fathers the virgin birth was defended (1) a true and historical event and (2) as essential to Christianity. If it did not happen Christianity falls. It is a sad state of affairs when such a key doctrine of the Christian faith can be regarded as of little consequence to the activity of faith or as a ‘potentially dismissible.’ Such a view stands outside the confession of faith that Christians have always maintained. Like Christians for two thousands years, we should have a confidence in the historicity of these events and a sense of urgency to raise our voices against those who would say their actual occurrence is inconsequential to belief.

If one is going to think a Christian faith in a person can survive even if they reject a historical Virgin Birth, we must be aware that this is really the 'novel' view succumbing to the spirit of the age rather than submitting to the Word of God. It is this novel view that is out of step with Church history and historic views of 'orthodoxy.'

In the continuation of my posts of the virgin birth, I wish to basically examine five of the Christians prior to the Council of Nicaea who defended this truth. We will examine: Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen. They defended this truth because they loved the LORD and it was vital to believe the right things about Him. Defending the truth was a matter of speaking the truth against liars and detractors. One speaks the truth because one loves the truth and even more specifically because one loves the Lord Jesus who is the truth. These men lived in a world much like ours: it was filled with pagan unbiblical worldviews of myth, history, and truth. It was filled with a plethora of religions and gods. It is in this context that the earliest theologians and apologists defended the truth. My discussion will not be exhaustive but rather highlight several points they make concerning the virgin birth.

Ignatius
Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in Syria. He died as a martyr for the faith around 110A.D during the reign of Emperor Trajan. He wrote to a number of churches in the Asia Minor region to encourage them and strengthen them particularly against heresy. For example in Ephesians 6.2 “Now Onesimus himself is highly praises your orderly conduct in God, reporting that you all live in accordance with the truth and that no heresy has found a home among you. Indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone unless he speaks truthfully about Jesus Christ.” Would that we had such an attitude in our day. As Michael Holmes states, “To Ignatius, the false teachers within posed a greater threat than the pagan society without.” [1]

First, we should note that like the later apologists, Ignatius does not go into an in depth treatment of the virgin birth [2]. Second, Ignatius is writing in a day when early forms of docetism were beginning to surface in the church. Docetism was the belief that Jesus only appeared to be human. The generally believed that the flesh of Christ was like a phantasm that covered his godhood. In this view, Christ was never truly human. In this context, there was a downplaying of the actual historical events. The birth of Christ could not have been real. The same would have been held for the other events of Christ life, especially the death and resurrection of Christ.

Ignatius, writing to Christians to encourage them. The virginity of Mary and the actual birth of Jesus Christ as real and true events were important to the faith of the Christian. It was no mere side issue to the faith.

To the Ephesians v.18-19:

V. 18 “My spirit is a humble sacrifice for the cross, which is a stumbling block to unbelievers, but salvation and eternal life to us. “Where is the wise? Where is the debater?” Where is the boasting of those who are thought to be intelligent? For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit. He was born and was baptized in order that by his suffering he might cleanse the water.”

One can see the quotations and allusion to 1 Cor. 1:20 and 1 Cor. 1:31. Ignatius clearly sees the virgin birth as something that unbelievers do not believe and understand. It seems to reflect on it from the perspective of 1 Cor. 1 and 2. The reason people do not believe it and understand it because it is foolishness to them. They will not accept the wisdom of God. Yet Ignatius clearly holds to the central events of the virgin birth of Christ as central to the gospel and God’s plan to bring eternal life.

V.19“Now the virginity of Mary and her giving birth were hidden from the ruler of this age, as was also the death of the Lord—three mysteries to be loudly proclaimed, yet which were accomplished in the silence of God. How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star shone forth in heaven brighter than all the stars; its light was indescribable and its strangeness caused amazement. All the rest of the constellations, together with sun and moon, formed a chorus around the star, yet the star itself outshone them all, and there was perplexity about the origin of this strange phenomenon which was so unlike the others. Consequently all magic and every kind of spell were dissolved, the ignorance so characteristic of wickedness vanished, and the ancient kingdom was abolished, when God appeared in human form to bring the newness of eternal life; and what had been prepared by God began to take effect. As a result, all things were thrown into ferment, because the abolition of death was being carried out.”

First, the ‘hidden from the ruler of this age’ is an allusion to 1 Cor. 2:7-8:

NAU 1 Corinthians 2:7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom
which God predestined before the ages to our glory;
NAU 1 Corinthians 2:8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;

God’s gospel wisdom is unable to be understood by the rulers of this age. It is hidden from them. Ignatius includes the virgin birth in this. Ignatius includes three things as ‘hidden’ from the rulers of this age: (1) the virginity of Mary; (2) the birth of Christ; and (3) the death of Christ.

Second, Ignatius does not see this hidden mystery as some secret in the sense that no one knew of the events or believed them. The ruler of this age, presumably the devil, does not understand what God is doing in this event [3]. Furthermore, it was a secret in the sense unbelievers or false believers rejected these truths. They do not understand what God is doing in this birth and death of Christ.

Third, Ignatius goes on to recount how this mystery is revealed in the history of redemption and what God is doing. The birth of Jesus is revealed by the star outshined other stars in the heaven. The star most likely refers to the star the magi followed. The kingdom of the ruler of this age is being abolished by this activity and so Ignatius sees wickedness and magic itself being undone in Christ’s coming. Ignatius is clear that with the virginity of Mary and the birth of Christ we have God in the flesh appearing. This appearing brings eternal life. These events lead to the abolition of death itself.

Thus, Ignatius locates the virgin birth as vitally important to (1) the triumph of the kingdom of God over the kingdom of this age, (2) the coming of eternal life and (3) the defeat of death. It is clear that the virgin birth is not ‘potentially dismissible.’

In other places, Ignatius is clear to emphasize the birth of Christ and the virginity of Mary was vital. It is essential to a solid faith to believe that these events truly occurred.

To the Smyrneaeans, v.1:
“I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakeable faith…totally convinced with regard to our Lord that he is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin, baptized by John in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him, truly nailed in the flesh for us under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch…"

In his letter to Magnesians v.11, he urges us to be fully convinced that these things occurred:

“Now I write these things, my dear friends, not because I have learned that any of you are actually like that, but, as one who is less than you, I want to forewarn you not to get snagged on the hooks of worthless opinions but instead to be fully convinced about the birth and the suffering and the resurrection, which took place during the time of the governorship of Pontius Pilate. These things were truly and most assuredly done by Jesus Christ, our hope, from which may none of you ever turn aside.”

Letter to the Trallians verse 9:

“Be deaf, therefore, whenever anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family David, who was really the son of Mary; who was born, who both ate and drank; who was really persecuted under Pontius Pilate,…”

We can rightly assume that to be convinced of his birth means the real events surrounding the birth and most assuredly includes Mary’s virginity since Ignatius includes it as a vital part to Jesus' birth.

Ignatius is concerned that we speak truthfully about Jesus Christ. He quite clearly believes the Jesus is truly God. He also argues for the true incarnation: that Son of God truly became flesh without losing His deity. He, of course, gets the understanding firmly from the pages of Scripture. Ignatius wrote about two-hundred years before Nicaea but expresses the same truth of the incarnation. A crucial part of this truth is the real birth of Jesus Christ to the woman Mary who was a virgin. To say Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary was regarded as something that was true and occurred. We will continue this series by turning to the early apologists.

ADDENDUM: I have not blogged on this series in over a month but I do plan to pick it up with a treatment of Justin Martyr, Origen, and a few others.

Endnotes:
[1] Michael Holmes The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated Edition; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999) 129.

[2] There is an extended discussion of the virgin birth in The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians. However, it is generally recognized that this epistle is most likely not written by Ignatius. It is worthy to note the high regard the work has for the virgin birth.

[3] See the similar language in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians. I did not comment on this work since it is now widely considered that Ignatius did not write it. However, here are a few excerpts on the virgin birth. It is worth considering that this is still textual evidence for the centrality of the Virgin Birth in early Christianity:

Chapter 3:
“For there is but One that became incarnate, and that neither the Father nor the Paraclete, but the Son only, [who became so] not in appearance or imagination, but in reality. For “the Word became flesh.” For “Wisdom builded for herself a house.” And God the Word was born as man, with a body, of the Virgin, without any intercourse of man. For [it is written], “A virgin shall conceive in her womb, and bring forth a son.” He was then truly born, truly grew up, truly ate and drank, was truly crucified, and died, and rose again. He who believes these things, as they really were, and as they really took place, is blessed. He who believeth them not is no less accursed than those who crucified the Lord. For the prince of this world rejoiceth when any one denies the cross, since he knows that the confession of the cross is his own destruction. For that is the trophy which has been raised up against his power, which when he sees, he shudders, and when he hears of, is afraid.”

Chapter 4:
“Wherefore, also, he [Satan] works in some that they should deny the cross, be ashamed of the passion, call the death an appearance, mutilate and explain away the birth of the Virgin, and calumniate the [human] itself as being abominable. He fights along with the Jews to a denial of the cross, and with the Gentiles to the calumniating of Mary, who are heretical in holding that Christ possessed a mere phantasmal body.”

Chapter 8:
“For many things are unknownto thee [Satan]; [such as the following]: the virginity of Mary; the wonderful birth; Who it was that became incarnate; the star which guided those who were in the east; the Magi who presented gifts; the salutation of the archangel to the Virgin; the marvellous conception of her that was betrothed; the announcement of the boy-forerunner respecting the son of the Virgin,”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Restless Heart




This is worth a citation:




Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee, man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that Thou “resistest the proud,”—yet man, this part of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee. Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee. Lord, teach me to know and understand which of these should be first, to call on Thee, or to praise Thee; and likewise to know Thee, or to call upon Thee. But who is there that calls upon Thee without knowing Thee? For he that knows Thee not may call upon Thee as other than Thou art. Or perhaps we call on Thee that we may know Thee. “But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? or how shall they believe without a preacher?” And those who seek the Lord shall praise Him. For those who seek shall find Him, and those who find Him shall praise Him. Let me seek Thee, Lord, in calling on Thee, and call on Thee in believing in Thee; for Thou hast been preached unto us. O Lord, my faith calls on Thee,—that faith which Thou hast imparted to me, which Thou hast breathed into me through the incarnation of Thy Son, through the ministry of Thy preacher.
--Augustine Confessions I.1

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Warfield on the Shorter Catechism




In my family we are beginning to introduce our daugthers to the truths of God's Word. We are reading Bible stories, but we are also exposing them to the systematic teaching of the Bible. My wife was thrilled to call me today when my daughter told her who Jesus was: He is God.


Somehow the conversation began on Superman, to which she said: "Jesus is stronger than superman" and my wife said, "Who is Jesus" and my daughter responded "He is God". She was curious about why he had so many names and if that was his middle name. The important thing is she is learning the truth. Of course, we emphasize the difference between the real person of Jesus and the fictional characters she sees on TV--whether superheros or fanciful princes and princesses (much more of the latter).
It made me think of this from Warfield:

What is "the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism"? We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest to his forefinger, demanded without preface: "What is the chief end of man?" On receiving the countersign, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever" --"Ah!" said he, "I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!" "Why, that was just what I was thinking of you," was therejoinder.

It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow up to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God. So apt, that we cannot afford to have them miss the chance of it. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it."
--B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, vol 1, p.383-84



One day, I hope my daughters grow up to be women and women of God at that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Dueling Duo

For an explanation see of this category see previous post, here.

Let’s begin:

“How did emerging churches come to emphasize the gospel of the kingdom? It began as a change of focus from the Epistles to the Gospels as a way to understand Jesus more profoundly. With a growing conviction that something was seriously wrong with the church, these emerging leaders felt they needed a fresh understanding of the gospel to proceed any further. As Barry Taylor of Sanctuary (Santa Monica, CA) confides, ‘I needed to stop reading Paul for a while and instead focus on Jesus.’

--Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Culture, p48.

Similarly Scot McKnight has reportedly described the community of emerging as: “really pro-Jesus (versus an evangelical community that is pro-Paul)” at this link.

Let me interject two comments:
(1) I love Paul and at times I tend to read his epistles without immersing myself in all of Scripture, so I find nothing wrong with saying, ‘I haven’t had a balanced diet of Scripture’ and seeking to correct it. But the point here seems to go deeper than this.
(2) I have to ask: “Do we really understand the kingdom if we cannot find it or see it emphasized in the epistles?” So I immediately thought of this Ridderbos quote:

"This viewpoint [historia salutis] is of particular importance to vindicate the unity between Paul’s kerygma and Christ’s teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a well-known fact that all sorts of contrasts have been said to exist here. But however different the modality in Paul’s ministry may be as compared with Jesus Christ’s, it can be rightly said that Paul does nothing but explain the eschatological reality which in Christ’s teachings is called the Kingdom…It is in these facts [death and resurrection] that he [Paul] is to preach and interpret as the culminating point of the Kingdom of God which has appeared in Christ, as the deciding acts in the divine, eschatological drama. The overture was announced by Christ Himself, and the part of the evangelists consists in the reciting of the historic course of God’s mighty deeds in the reversal times…But the unity of what is called Jesus and Paul is the unity of the great acts of God in the fullness of the times.”

--Herman Ridderbos, When the Time Had Fully Come, pp.48-49. (Emphasis Mine)

Can we really say we’ve turned back to the kingdom if we change our focus from the epistles to the gospels? Is favoring the Gospels over Pauline Epistles really any better than favoring Pauline Epistles over the Gospels? There also seems to be an implicit favoring of the Synoptic Gospels over John's Gospel. [As a preliminary consider: (1) the lack of prominence of 'kingdom' in John's Gospel and (2) a distaste for creedal formula and 'right belief' in certain truths about Jesus by some {not all} of emerging/emergent crowd (compare with John 8:24, 20:31, etc.)].

Certainly, historically Jesus is the Savior and Paul is not but the Gospels and the Epistles are equally the Word of God (this is one of the dangers of a 'red letter' Bible). Paul is an apostle and so the foundation of the church is laid upon him as well even though Christ's is the actually cornerstone of that foundation (Eph.2:20). The building needs to rest on its cornerstone but it cannot stand on the cornerstone in exclusion of the rest of the foundation.

Maybe some corners of the evangelical church have been too "pro-Paul" but I find that hard to believe given the general state of God's soveriegnty, grace, and a justification by faith alone to name a but a few. Even if there are some too pro-Paul, I fail to see how moving away from Epistles to the Gospels is any better. The Epistles and Gospels are not mutually exclusive when it comes to the gospel of the kingdom. Thank you Ridderbos.

I have further suspicion, although unconfirmed, that this thinking in the first quote tacitly falls prey to assumptions that the focus of 'individual salvation' comes from reading Paul and not Jesus. Some emerging churches have critiqued Western Christianity as being too individualist, a critique that I find holds some warrant if we can make it (and offer solutions) without detracting from Biblical truths like justification by faith, reconciliation with God and the importance of one's relational, legal, and covenantal status before God. While the evangelical world has at times overly focussed on the individual both Paul and Jesus do concern themselves with the eternal states of the individual and their status before God. Equally, both Paul and Jesus concern themselves with the community of the believers, their unity, and their ethical behavior [orthopraxy is the new buzz word].

If the issues are over loving the poor, loving our enemies, judging falsely controling our tongues, etc., we can find just as much in the Epistles as in the Gospels. For example: Romans 13 or James 1:26-27; 2:1-13 amongst other places.

Doesn’t Paul focus on Jesus? Paul preaches and ministers the very kingdom Jesus has brought into effect. I would submit that any view of the kingdom that cannot see Paul's ministry (with His focus on the death and resurrection of Christ) as part of the kingdom is at best insufficient and worse a denial of the very 'gospel of the kingdom' it seeks to affirm. I will gain a greater understanding of the kingdom by reading the Gospels but not if that reading drives me away from Paul and the other Epistles.

I've already said more than I want to so let me finish: Q: "To best find the kingdom: Gospels or Epistles?" A: "Yes."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

From Noah to Christ

My oldest daughter just turned four and it seems like now she is a budding theologian. We were playing and she is good at making up games with weird names and rules that come out of nowhere. Today, she decided she wanted to play a game called Noah. So it provided an opportunity to talk about the Biblical story of Noah. I asked her if she remembered the story of Noah and knew what happened. She said, "No." So I started to tell the Bible story, even though I think she remembered parts of it. I was telling her that God promised to judge the world. Then I was telling her about the ark and I got to the point where the flood came and the people fled to the hills and the boat started to float. She asked, "Did Jesus forgive them?" I had to ask "Who?" because I wasn't sure if she was talking about the people in the ark or the people left on the earth.

How do you explain why Noah was saved? How do we tell the story of Noah? I remember numerous times in seminary: "If you can preach the same Old Testament sermon from the pulpit as you could from the synagogue, you haven't preached Christ." You have not followed the method of Jesus say in Luke 24, or the hermeneutic goal of the apostles, like for example in Acts 2.

So at the end of the day, my daughter asked the most profound question of the text (story): "Did Jesus forgive them?" Is the ark and the story of Noah ultimately at the final reading about Jesus or not? Of course, I answered "Yes"--but the question struck home that a Christological hermeneutic is not some sophisticated exegetical method. It is not for the seminary elite or the intellectually rigorous. It is the Christian understanding of reading the text. Christ brings fulfillment to the Old Testament.
"A redemptive-historical orientation is not some kind of dispensable exegetical luxury. At stake is nothing less than the right way of interpreting Scripture...At issue here is simply the fundamental principle that the text is to be interpreted in light of its context. In the case of Scripture, the redemptive-historical structure or framework established by Scripture itself is the contextual factor having the broadest bearing on a given text."
--Richard B. Gaffin Jr. "Introduction" Redemptive History and Interpretation. pp. xxi-xxii.
I cannot read the text looking simply for good morals or general principles. The text testifies to the history of God's redemptive activity, this history and the text itself culminates in the coming of Jesus Christ. It points to the eschatological climax of Jesus' work. It does this using features like typology and prophecy. For example, in Hebrews were are told the very structure of the cultic activities in the Old Testament are shadows that point to the real of the heavenly tabernacle and the work of Christ.

There are two uses of the story of Noah in the Old Testament.
First, in relationship to our baptism and the eschatological event of Christ's first coming:

1 Peter 3:18-21
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

At this time, I don't want to get into what preaching to the spirits in prison is. There are several different views but this does not concern us here--although I do think the question is answerable. I think that the resurrection of Christ is a proclamation of the defeat of those who were judged by their disobedience in the days of Noah and were thus condemned to prision. But the passing through water in the ark is a symbolism of baptism: our being united to Christ's death and resurrection. Baptism saves not because it removes dirt from our physical body but because in baptism we testify our union with Christ which is experienced through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, we appeal to God through the resurrection of Jesus. Just as Jesus' death is his baptism, so we are baptized into the event through faith. His blood covers our sins and we can appeal to God for a good conscience.

If Noah's experience in the ark was a "baptism" then my daughter's simple question: "Did Jesus save them?" Is most profound. (1) It is intuitive of a larger redemptive historical understanding of the text and (2) God's plan to save is one unified plan carried out through covenant. God does not save one way to one people and another way to another people.

Second, the flood is an act of judgment that typifies the coming judgment. We could have noted above how baptism is a passing through judgment a sort of 'trial-by-ordeal' event.
2 Peter 2:4-6
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;
2 Peter 3:5-7
5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
People often believe the judgment at the return of Christ is not coming. What we must remember, as Peter points out, is that God has already judged the world at the flood and this judgment typified the final judgment which will be by fire not water. God brings judgment and saves. Just as Jesus saved people at the flood through the ark so too their will be a people saved at the return of Christ. Jesus will thresh out his judgment and save His people (Rev. 19).

The New Testament teaches us then when we look as the story and the events of Noah and the flood. It points us to the first coming and second coming of Christ. Christ brings to fulfillment the story of Noah. When we look back, Jesus really did forgive the people on the ark. Many serious Christians who have spent years reading the Bible never read the Bible as a whole, particularly in the Old Testament as "pointing to Christ." We make all kinds of application but we never let the gospel itself shape our reading of the text.

My daughter asked the most profound question. A Christological question when she heard the simple story of Noah: "Did Jesus save them?" We all need to have such Christological sensibility when it comes to reading the text of Scripture. So often we do not look for the gospel in the Old Testament: "Did Jesus save them?" "How does this point me to Christ and the greater fulfillment?" May we have the child-like eyes to see Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
Matt 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, I Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;
The "these things" of course refers to the kingdom things. It is those same kingdom things that Jesus had to "open the eyes" of the disciples to in Luke 24. The disciples has to be taught that the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ. We must so encounter the resurrected Lord that it impact our understanding of the Old Testament so that we cannot but see Christ as we read. As a caveat, we do not mean some sort of artificial alegorical use of the text but rather a view that respects the unfolding plan of God's redemption. God has spoken in many ways but now in the last days has spoken in His Son (Heb. 1:1-2).

I did not Biblical defend from Scripture the legitimacy of a Christological hermeneutic as I believe we can and must, numerous books have been written on this subject. Rather, my plea here is that if a four year old can do it and ask such question: "Why don't we do it?" Are we so "advanced" in our hermeneutics and "profound" in our applications that we fail to ask the most basic question of the Old Testament: "Did Jesus save them?"

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Reflections on Eternity part 5

This will be my final post in this series. If we are going to think about eternity at all, particularly in light of the suffering, evil, and death that we see in this world, we must think about it through the lense of the gospel. The gospel should be the glasses that color our eyes and determines how we view this world. To that end and for further thinking, I want to recommend a book.




About a year ago I read a wonderful little book. It was Michael Horton’s Too Good to Be True: Finding Hope in a Work of Hype. This book is remarkable brief and equally profound. If you read it you will find the old truths of the gospel applied to the practical realities of life, especially life and death. Those who have suffered tragedy will find it uplifting as we are grounded in our great God with a firm confidence renewed afresh. Those who have of yet suffered little will find this like basic training before the heat of combat. The Lord may well use it to warm the soul to the beauty in the realities of the gospel.


I have never been a big fan of sentimental Christianity where everyone smiles, nods, and gives little platitudes like “Things will be ok.” While many sincere Christians mean well, I find these things are often said not from a confidence in God’s sovereignty but from an inability to think of anything else to say. God’s sovereignty does assure us that all things will work for His glory and for the benefit of those who love Him, those whom He is working to conform to His image (Rom. 8:28). God’s sovereignty assures us that in the evils of life God’s plan will be fulfilled and it will be for good (Gen. 50:20). The highpoint which assures of us this is the gospel itself whereby God ordained that the evil intent of men’s heart in crucifying the Son would be used to defeat evil and death itself. God sovereignly planned and purposed for evil to occur so that as men freely exercised the evil in their heart to their content and fulfillment they were actually accomplishing the plan and purpose of God.

Acts 2:23-24 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 "But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
Acts 4:27-28 27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.


God did not coerce this evil or make them do it (James 1:13) but neither is it outside of His control and purpose. Sin and death will be defeated and God will usher in an eternity of glory consisting in the New Heavens and the New Earth. All this centers on the cross and resurrection. Horton turns us to this center while extending a hand to the wounded of God's sheep and ushering us to the Lord: "Come and follow."

Horton’s book: Too Good to Be True reminds one of the centrality of God’s plan and the outworking of His history of redemption. He combined systematic theology, Biblical theology tailored to the flow of redemptive history and pastoral theology in this masterfully beautiful piece. His words exude the Holy Writ. At the same time, He presents a powerful apologetic to our culture and its callousness to the pain and agony of death. Far from sentimentalism, Horton takes the truth of the gospel and confronts sin, death, and agony head on. He is not afraid to stair at the realities of life, of which he shares some heart wrenching personal agonies. He stairs at them long and hard and even forces us, like the Psalmist, to ask: Is God good? His answer is a resounding yes. But again not the quick band-aid of “Things will be ok.” Furthermore, he takes to task the utilitarian view of Christianity, “It will fix my problems and provide health, wealth and success.” Horton uses a solidly Biblical full orbed view of the gospel to confront the crisis of our day: a failure to see the scope of God’s plan in redemptive history, a plan that centers on the death and resurrection of Christ.

Anyone who has grappled with death, suffering, and life issues must read this book. Anyone who has looked at life often failed to find hope in the midst of utter agony must read this book. Those who have struggled in faith and doubted the goodness of God will be uplifted by this book. Those who have been corrupted by the sterilization of death and suffering in our world would do good to read this book that confronts these realities head on not to linger under the sting of death but to push us through to its defeat. For example, at one point Horton tells of a mural at the hospital referring to death that said, “The sunrise is a beautiful as the sunset.” Horton rightly reminds us that for the Biblical world view this is a load of crock. Death is horrible, it is the curse upon the creation resulting from sin.

I highly recommend Horton’s book as you reflect on the gospel and eternity. If you are not accustomed to reading theology it is a simple book. Those who read theology regularly will readily recognize that Horton stands on the shoulders of the greats from the Reformation tradition. He shows that our categories of systematic theology that arise from Scripture are not mere meanderings of idle thought. As a whole, His reflections on Scripture and direct Scriptural argumentation cause us to turn to the Bible and therefore back to what God Himself as spoken. Theology is not merely theoretical its is pracitical as the Reformed Orthodoxy and the Puritans of the 16th and 17th century well knew.

Here are some of my favorite quotes.

Even comforting truths can be an irratiation when our nerves are raw. Understanding who God is, who we are, and God's ways in creation, providence, and redemption--at least as much as Scripture reveals to us--is to the trials of life what preparing for the LSAT is to the practice of law. Theology is a most serious business. Preparing for this exam is not just a head game or a prerequisite for a temporal vocation, buts it's a matter of life and death. It is about our heavenly vocation and its implications for each day here and now. It's about living, and dying, well. (p.18)


Contrast the upbeat contemporary perspective with that of theologian Karl Barth...Each Sunday, notes Barth, the church bell is run to announce to the village that God's word is to be proclaimed: "And if none of these things help, will not the crosses in the churchyard which quietly look in through the windows tell you unambiguously what is relevant here and what is not?" The sanctuary did not see teh world through rose-colored windows but thorugh the clear glass that brought reality home. But that was when we had graveyards on church grounds. Today, we have conveniently removed death, and with it the communion of the saints, and relegated it to nondescripte secular cemeteries with euphemistic names like "Forest Lawn." The average person today is about as likely to come in contact with dead and dying as with the sources of daily bread. We now have supermarkets for everything, with cheerful music soothing any inconvenient questions, doubts, or fears about how we are dealing with life and death. Even our churches can exhibit this tendency. (pp.31-32)


Our culture has come to value only things that are practical, things that work. Every idea or conviction is judged by its utility: Will it help me raise my kids, build a successful marriage, live a healthy life? When an idea or conviction doesn't come through, we find it easy to move on to another product. (p.111)


Christianity is not true because it works. In many cases, it does not work. That is to say, it does not solve all the problems we think it should solve. It isn't a technique for our personal therapy, but the truth that God has overcome sin and death in the cross and resurrection of Christ. Those who become Christians because they were told it would fix their marriages, only to find themselves in divorce court, might well give up on Christianity. Those who expected to be free of all their sinful habits, temptations, and desires after a conversion in which sudden victory was promised may find themselves disillusioned with God altogether, when they realized tehy are still sinners saved by grace. (pp.126-127)

There is much more we could commend from this book. We could quote extensively on how he handles and responds Biblically to various serious crises that are a reality of life but this lifting of quotes might rob the joy of reading the arguments and pastoral counsel in their entirety as Horton readily moves from painful realities of life to the gospel and back again in a dance that shows the stunning ability of the Bible (and a Biblical theology) to minister to these tough issues. It is particularly astounding the breadth of Scripture that that Horton is able to work through with brevity yet careful reflection and articulation of the main points. He hits the Psalms, Job, Paul's two-adam Christology, the 'already not/yet' of the kindom, theology of the cross vs. theology of glory, Paul at Mars Hill, Romans 6, 7, and 8, the conflict of the kingdom of Satan vs. the kingdom of God and much more. It is worth the short 189 pages (the pages sizes are small too).


Whether you are a young or old in your Christian walk, whether you want to read serious theology or reflect pastorally on how to comfort people, whether you have faced a personal crises that has rocked your Christian life at an existential level or your faith as remained largely untouched by horrendous trials this book is a must read. This book is simple enough for a high school student to read yet profound enough to provide hours of meditation and stirred think for the most godly of saints. Most importantly it points us to Bible and through Scripture to the Triune God of the Bible who has covenanted Himself to His people. Take up and read.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Reflections on Eternity part 4

Here is an exposition on Jeremiah 29:11 that I made at another funeral service. I attempted in my ultimate view to be redemptive historical in my exegesis and application. I view the fulfillement of Jeremiah 29:11 in Christ and the New Covenant.

Sometimes we can speak the right truth at the wrong moment. When someone passes often times as human beings and as Christians we can come to a person and say, “God is sovereign, God is in control” without grieving with the person. It is the right truth at the wrong moment of time. We mean well, but the person may need a shoulder to cry on or someone to grieve with them and bear their burden. At other times, we weep without hope and we need to know that God is sovereign.

Today, as we reflect on the passing of [] and we remember his life and the goodness of the Lord in that life, the family has asked me to speak upon God’s sovereignty and providence. Specifically, they want you to know that God was and is in control and they have full confidence that God has done the right thing and the right time with taking [] home.

For 20 years, [] had to eat soft food because of complications from cancer on the tongue. Five or six years ago [] had an anurism—and through it all he never complained. [] had been in and out the hospital for surgeries and treatments. Yet there remained both in [] and in the family and sense that God was in control. They believe that []’s passing was at just the right time according to God’s plan.

Proverbs says this:

Proverbs 16:9 9 The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

Proverbs 19:21 21 Many plans are in a man's heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.


God is in control of all things. Nothing happens in this earth and creation that God does not allow for and God has not planned for it to occur.

Isaiah 46:9-10 9 "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';

So, while death is the consequence of sin and sin is something God permitted to allow Adam to do, death is not outside of God’s control. The family has asked that I share from Jeremiah 29:11. But the family has asked that I preach from this verse if I feel I can legitimately use it in context. I must admit that it would not be the first verse that comes to mind for a funeral service.

Jeremiah 29:11 11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.


In sitting down with some of the immediate family, I was glad when they suggested I preach from this verse they also were concerned about using it in context. I know many of young high school and college kids who before embarking on life grab this verse out of context as comfort that God has a plan for them. The usually view this plan for prosperity in financial terms or success in life’s endeavors. Certainly, God has a plan for each and every one of us. But what is the future and hope in this passage? How does it apply to reflecting on []’s life at this memorial service?

First, Israel’s future hope in this passage is redemption and restoration.

In the context, God has pronounced His judgment upon His people in Jerusalem. Some had already been exiled to Babylon but the final destruction of Jerusalem was imminent and impending. There would be judgment for sin upon the nation. She would be in exile for 70 years. As part of God’s plan, He would not destroy all of Israel, as He will could have but he would save a remnant who would live in Babylon for 70 years.

The remnant would for 70 years be away from God’s temple, away from Mt. Zion where God would descended to dwell. This was the place of worship under the Old Covenant. Instead, the people would be surrounded by pagans who hated the living and true God. Consider for example the stories in Daniel describe an Israelite living in Babylon. At the end of the 70 years, the LORD would return to his people:

NAU Jeremiah 29:10 "For thus says the LORD, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.

When God returns to His people, He would restore them once again and cause them to prosper. He would stir in their hearts the desire and enablement to repent. God’s people would return to God.

NAU Jeremiah 29:11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
NAU Jeremiah 29:12 'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.


Israel had suffered for her sins in this exile. Yet, when she prayed to God at the end of the 70 years, God would not abandon her. God would redeem her and remove the curse of sin from her. When she would turn to seek God, He would make Himself known:

NAU Jeremiah 29:13 'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

God would once again bring His people back to the land of Israel. He would restore them from captivity. It is a picture of mercy and grace. As in the first exodus from Egypt, this second exodus from Babylon would be a picture of redemption:

NAU Jeremiah 29:14 'I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.

The promise of redemption would be the promise of the New Covenant, which is central to the book of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

God’s sovereign plan is ultimately a plan to redeem His people. He accomplishes their redemption where He forgives their sin and forgets it. He removes our guilt and the stain of sin.

Second, [] understood the blessedness of redemption as His future hope.

God most certainly had a plan for []’s life. This plan included years of difficulty, this plan included the gift of a wonderful wife and a beautiful family. This plan included years of work and years of difficulties and suffering with ongoing effects of cancer. This plan finally included []’s death at just the right time—and the family has a confidence that by God’s will and God’s grace this was the perfect time for []. God was finished with using [] on earth and so God called [] home.

Philippians 1:21-23 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;

Paul’s life was a fruitful labor to be used. To die would be gain but Paul was content to wait until God’s plan with that life was fulfilled. Today [] has gained; God’s plan for []’s life has come to completion. The high point God’s plan for [] was to bring [] to salvation. Prior to his final hospitalization, I visited [] in the hospital. One of the passages we read was from Psalm 32:

Psalm 32:1-5 NAU Psalm 32:1 A Psalm of David. A Maskil. How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! 2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit! 3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.

[] knew what it was like to have his body waste away, though not because of a specific sin but as an effect of the curse upon all humanity. Yet, as we reflected on this verse, he acknowledged the wonder of being blessed by God. [] had long ago believed in the LORD Jesus Christ. God had visited [] enabling [] to repent. [] had turned to the LORD and found Him. [] had called upon the Lord Jesus and prayed to Him. [] prayed and the LORD heard just as in Israel’s exile.

The promise of the New Covenant comes to us by the work of Christ. Just as Israel had a curse to go through, one who was even greater than Israel who was born of a woman, born under the Law, and lived perfectly for us went through a curse. It was the curse of our sin. Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us; he bore our curse. This is the climax of God’s plan; this is how God gives us hope and a future. Not only did Christ die, but his ‘fortunes were restored’. He received the reward of resurrection life. He freely gives that reward to His people. In the New Heavens and New Earth, God will restore our fortunes. We will be blessed with an eternal life. We will glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We will dwell in mansions with streets of gold.

What is said of Israel, is said of [] and all other Christians who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. A declaration from God:
"for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

[] knew the LORD.
NAU Jeremiah 29:14 'I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.
The greater exile of humanity was our departure from fellowship with God at the garden of Eden. The curse for sin, which is death, came upon us. This is a curse that [] has succumbed to. Yet God has a greater plan. It was a plan evident through []’s life as we reflect upon it. God has gathered [] back to Himself. He now enjoys fellowship in God’s presence. Furthermore, he is anticipating his bodily resurrection. []’s body will no longer have weakness and infirmity. It will be restored This is all because of the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
1 Corinthians 15:51-57 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 55 "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...